The Importance of Highlighting Important Information

By April 22, 2014Uncategorized

I recently bought a set of soft-close hinges for a wooden chest which are designed to work in conjunction with a chest’s main hinges to prevent the lid from slamming shut. My expectation was that the install would take around 5 minutes. About 1.5 hours later the product was back in the box and ready to be returned to the store. So what went wrong and why did the product need to be returned?

Well, the process began by removing the product from the box, tossing the instructions, or rather the elementary diagram on the cardboard insert, aside and then proceeding to mount the hinges. With the first hinge installed it was time for a test. The lid closed about ½ way and then refused to close any further. After some rudimentary checks, the product appeared to be fine, so it was time to break out the instructions.

After about 10 reviews of the instructions and the diagram, nothing obvious came about. It wasn’t until around the 11th pass that I noticed a small detail on the diagram indicating a distance between chest hinge’s pivot point and the location of the soft-close hinge’s mounting location.

This little detail led me to put on my geometry hat and do some careful debugging. In essence what was happening was that the arc of travel for the main hinge was not the same as that of the soft close hinge, which meant that the lid would close to a certain point and then the two hinges were effectively “fighting” each other preventing the lid from fully closing. The underlying problem of course was that the soft-close hinge was not mounted at the exact distance that it needed to be from the main hinge to ensure that both would travel in the same arc.

So what was a minor detail on a tiny diagram was actually the most important detail of all. In fact the manufacturer should have put this requirement in big bold letters in the very first step. This would have ensured that users could verify that the proper mounting distance was possible to achieve and that the unit was mounted in the proper location the first time around. In my case the proper mounting distance was not possible due to the shape of the chest and the type of hinges used, so not only was the product not going to work, but I also now had two unsightly drill holes.

The lesson for technical documentation here is that what may seem like a small detail to you, could in fact be the most important detail for your users. So be sure to carefully analyze every bit of information you publish and question just how much emphasis it deserves.